Why are People Passive-Aggressive?

Most people display passive-aggressive behavior at least occasionally. The behavior tends to increase when people feel dependent, unheard, or powerless. Passive aggression can be difficult to pinpoint because the entire purpose of the behavior is to avoid directness and obscure any aggressive intent.

In some cases, stress caused by life events or a mental health issue can cause people to act in passive-aggressive ways. Anxiety, depression, bipolar, and ADHD are a few common mental health issues that may cause passive aggression. Stressful life events such as unemployment, relocation, or the death of a loved one may also cause people to act out passive-aggressively.

While passive aggression can be used as a coping mechanism, it is not a healthy one.


While passive-aggressive behaviors are not constructive, the feelings behind them are most often valid. It can be helpful for those who lean on passive aggression due to fear of confrontation to face this fear and explore their feelings with a therapist who can help them find healthier outlets.


Jocelyn Herrett, DSW, RSW

Senior Mental Health Clinician

Walmsley, EFAP